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X-Men: Grand Design #1 [Review]

xmen_grand_design_0001X-Men: Grand Design

Cartoonist: Ed Piskor
Editor: Chris Robinson
X-Men Group Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor in Chief: Axel Alonso
Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
President: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine
X-Men Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 2018
Cover Price: $5.99

I crab about Marvel comics all costing $3.99+ and virtually always put back even curiosities once I “confirm” that they’re $3.99+ for the issue held in-hand. I’m down on much of what Marvel has published for the last few years at least, and have had extremely mixed feelings on what stuff I have picked up.

This issue is $5.99.

And I barely thought anything of it. The issue FEELS thick, and heavy, and quite possibly THE single best value in a single issue that I have come across from Marvel in a long, long time.

It took me three sittings to get through this issue. Granted, I had other stuff going on, but I also hadn’t mentally “budgeted” a long time to stay put and read, used to even the extra-sized issues being pretty quick reads.

I’m not actually sure what I expected from this issue. I think initially I thought it was going to be a book that was text-only; when I realized it was actually a comic after all, I decided to give it a shot. What I got out of it is that whatever the length of the finished product, it’s like this detailed “history” of the X-Men, in comic format–using new art and narrative but covering existing material.

The page design includes coloring to make these glossy, higher-quality-paper pages look like old newsprint; the coloring to the story/art itself lends to that effect, giving this the appearance of a classic 1960s comic book or such. While there’s a little bit of “panel creativity” and “white space,” by and large the page layouts are tight and dense, modular classic panels–squares and rectangles with actual borders and gutters in a way that seems to have been largely jettisoned in “modern” comics. The dense visuals share space with dense text–plenty of caption boxes, speech balloons, and thought bubbles; the art is there, the art shows plenty, but there are no full or double-page splashes. The art serves the narrative, rather than some limited text serving up an excuse for big, flashy art.

Story-wise, I didn’t really feel like there was anything “new” or “fancy” or such here. Nothing particularly stood out, nothing was singularly memorable. But then, I was not expecting such. What the story is, what the writing is, is basically a straight-forward narrative, in chronological order, from the beginning of Marvel Comics into the 1960s and the beginning of the original X-Men issues. Things that were revealed in flashbacks a few issues in or 30-something YEARS’ worth of issues in, it’s here in order, unfolding as events unfolded–NOT in the order that details were doled out to readers as the actual issues were published. And this is presented as a tale from Uatu, the Watcher…giving a good context to things now being told in order.

In many ways, I’m sure a lot of people would consider this a boring read, and a re-tread, and probably a few other negative connotations to stuff. Me? I thoroughly enjoyed this. Part review, part history lesson, part summary, and part condensed revisitation of classic stories. I totally appreciate comics in general and the nature of them; the occasional “new reveal” or such, new flashbacks revealing previously-unknown information, the introduction of a character from someone’s past who just happened to not have been mentioned or relevant til “now” in the story that sheds new and different light on past events. But there’s something cool and refreshing about just following a single, one-directioned narrative pulling in everything–from information we got in X-Men #1, to stuff brought up/shown into 2009, 45-some years after X-Men #1.

X-Men: Grand Design (sample 2 pages' layout)

Pages seem to have 5-9 panels each, some more…making for plenty of room to cram a LOT of story into small space. No half, full, or double-page splashes to “cheat” or anything!

For my $5.99, three “sittings” to read, and sheer amount of time spent to read this whole thing, this is the best value in time-to-money I’ve found in years. As I got to the end of the issue, I wondered if this was monthly, or if I’d have to wait up to TWO months for the next issue…but then saw the next issue is supposedly in a mere two weeks.

At $5.99 an issue, and biweekly, and I’m very much looking forward to the next issue? Anyone reading much of my writing of late ought to realize that alone should speak to the quality I see in this. Again–this will not be for everyone. That said…I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who is or was a fan of the X-Men, particularly the 1960s “early days” OF the X-Men.

TMNT Forever? [Movie Review: Turtles Forever]

Though I largely lost track of the TMNT animated series the last several years, I’ve tuned in here or there to see where things are. I’d thought the series was nothing but re-runs at this point, and with the sale of the TMNT to Nickelodeon, hadn’t expected anything new to be aired. Thankfully, I was wrong, as this ‘Turtles Forever’ tv movie aired this morning.

The purple dragons find themselves under attack as they seek to rip off some high-tech equipment. Splinter finds his soap opera interrupted by news of four green individuals caught on camera–apparently turtles. However, his sons are all home and haven’t been out. Cue Hun, responding to the Dragons’ having captured the Turtles. Sure enough, four Ninja Turtles have been captured…but they’re not any Hun has ever seen before. Determining they’re of no worth, he orders them killed…but that’s when the “real” (2003) turtles burst in.

After a fight, the two teams of teenage turtles size each other up. One group–pudgey and goofy, the other taller, leaner, and more serious. Before long, the time-tossed turtles from 1987 are introduced to Splinter–who, notably, looks much different. The Technodrome is brought in, as is the bumbling Shredder, Krang, and even the robotic foot soldiers. Bebop and Rocksteady make their requisite appearance.

Realizing that there are other-dimensional versions of the turtles he knows, Bumbling Shredder (1987) uses the Technodrome tech to locate this dimension’s Shredder–not in the USA, Not on Earth, but significantly further away–and beams him into the Technodrome. This dimension’s Shredder, however, is not the human Oroku Saki, but an evil Utrom Ch’rell. The Ch’rell Shredder wakes, makes short work of Bumbling Shredder, Krang, & Co., and implements a new plan–retrofitting the Technodrome with Utrom upgrades, transforming it into a far deadlier, more effective “ultimate weapon” than any previously seen.

The two groups of turtles survive an attack by a mutated Hun (remember the pink mutagen that changed someone into whatever creature they were last in contact with?), and with a dimensional-portal-stick find themselves back in the 1987 world–reversing the groups’ disorientation. The 2003 turtles meet the Hamato Yoshi Splinter, who offers a calm, serious, yet compassionate air to the time-tossed teens.

When the turtles check back in with their home (2003) dimension, they see Ch’rell’s upgraded Technodrome causing loads of destruction, withstanding the best the Military can throw at it…and they realize the box of anti-Technodrome gadgest they have isn’t gonna cut it.

Upon returning to rescue Splinter (2003), the turtles are all captured, held to particular points in a massive chamber, their essense to play a role in locating “Turtle-Prime,” the SOURCE of Ninja Turtles in the Multiverse. (And reminding me a great deal of Alexander Luthor’s tower from DC’s Infinite Crisis).

The Ch’rell Shredder shares what he’s learned, displaying images of virtually every other incarnation of the turtles out there–The 1990s movies, various incarnations from Mirage, and Archie, the newspaper strip, the 2007 movie, and so on. All are branches coming from the source being sought–destroy the source, and all the others will cease to exist. (Destroy a branch and others will continue to flourish).

Before the turtles can be completely dismantled by the device, Karai beams them away, saving their lives, as the Technodrome fades away to this Prime dimension. Another encounter with Hun as the world turns to black and white and then whites out of existence leads the turtles to modify their dimensional stick and they, too, fade out to the Prime dimension.

Arrival there introduces black and white turtles–the ORIGINAL Mirage TMNT. Accurately, the “source” of every other incarnation of the turtles.

The three groups team up to face the threat Ch’rell now poses to the multiverse.

As the story draws to a close, the other turtles return “home,” and the Prime-turtles are left to reflect on what they’ve just been a part of. Finally, they leave with Leonardo’s narration seeing them out. “We are the Teenage Mutant Ninja TUrtles. We strike hard, and fade away…into the night.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this when I first discovered it. A friend posted a link to the wikipedia page on my facebook, and I researched a bit from there, ultimately recording the movie and watching it this evening. A blending of the old and new/current cartoons was interesting as a concept, but I figured it would be some goofy, hokey thing that wouldn’t really be much more than “fanservice” or such.

However, goofy as it was at points, I really greatly enjoyed this. The movie REALLY accentuates the differences in the turtles’ incarnations. The “classic” 1987 turtles are goofy, hokey, and not very serious on the whole. The 2003 turtles are far more serious (though Mikey remains a bit of a goofball–but not nearly on the level of all the ’87 turtles). And of course, both incarnations are significantly “lighter” than the original 1984 Mirage turtles.

As far as I could tell, the voices of the 2003 turtles are the same as the long-running series. None of the voices for the classic turtles seemed at all familiar–which was disappointing, though I’d’ve been shocked if they could reassemble those regulars 20ish years later. Still, the attitudes of the characters showed through.

I did feel that the Splinters, as well as April and Casey (2003) got shortchanged…though I could’ve done with a little less than the brief bit we got with the 1987 April. I must admit it was sorta cool seeing Bebop and Rocksteady again, though they, too, were really shown to be the goofy caricatures they were.

Though brief overall, the Prime-turtles were rather cool to see–and it may just be my own prior comparisons of the incarnations that made it stand out for me–but they seemed all the more dangerous and deadly appearing alongside the colorized counterparts.

The movie ending with these turtles first striking the pose on a building that should be familiar to anyone who’s seen the covers to the original TMNT #1, TMNT #50, and so on. Then the thing closed out with Leo’s narration from the ending of that original TMNT #1…

Which truly brought things full-circle. Even though mere glimpses were provided of the numerous versions of the turtles through the years, that technically means they were included here. And so this capped off–“series finale”-style–the animated series that’s been running since 2003, as well as referencing/capping off the 1980s-1990s series, and everything that’s come before in the extended multiverse of TMNT.

I loved the references to past elements of the series. The classic lines were all there. Familiar nuances to voices were present despite different voiceactors–from Bumbling Shredder’s frustration to Krang’s gurgling/burping. The visual styles were consistent at least with what I remember of both series. The Prime turtles seemed a bit off, but the visual cues were absolutely unmistakeable.

This whole thing reminded me a bit of that Batman: The Animated Series episode with the kids relaying their different versions of the Batman, that included the various visual styles of the silver-age Batman, Miller’s Dark Knight, and so on.

All in all, it’s hard to capture every last detail or every last thought and such from the movie. Suffice to say that there are a number of other specific touches that pushed all the right geek-buttons for me.

I sincerely hope this gets released on DVD, whoever puts it out (provided it’s not vastly over-priced for being only about 75 minutes of content).

One of the commercials indicates it’ll be airing again over the next 3 weeks, so if you have not had a chance to see it, and you’re a fan of (particularly) either of the animated series, this is incredibly worthwhile.

Ender’s Game: Battle School #4 [Review]

Creative Director & Executive Director Orson Scott Card
Script: Christopher Yost
Art: Pasqual Ferry
Color Art: Frank D’Armata
Lettering: VC’s Cory Petit
Story Consultant: Jake Black
Pasqual Ferry & Frank D’Armata:
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Beginning this issue, I feel like I’ve missed something. I’m not sure if I simply missed an issue…or if there was a story jump that’s alluded to in the opening text, or what–but I found myself wishing there was a bit of a recap page for this issue. I’ve read the novel this is based on, so know what’s happened…just no memory of seeing everything in this visual format.

We pick up with Ender having been transferred out of Bonzo’s army and into another army, which opens up different dynamics between Ender and the other kids. We move through the incident of the younger kids getting away from the larger bullies in the battle room, and finally to where Ender–in the computer simulation game–throws the snake through the mirror and is set upon by many smaller snakes.

On the whole, the art continues to be good and fairly stylistic. The visuals are different than what I have in my head for these events, but I can let that slide with no real trouble.

The story holds up as well–though again, I’ve read the novel and so can fill in any gaps that I’d otherwise find myself missing. This definitely continues to feel–both visually and the story–like an adaptation. Yost and Ferry do a good job of holding to the spirit of the source material, though, which is indeed a plus in that department.

For the point of the story we’re at 4 issues in out of 5, I can only assume that we are indeed going to hve a series of mini-series adapting the entirety of Ender’s Game. However, I wonder at the same time if we might get a longer series combining both Ender and Bean for the next segment, as it seems likely that this mini will end not long after the two are introduced.

If you’re not already familiar with Ender’s Game or interested in beginning with something that is an “adaptation of” the work, this probably isn’t for you–especially for the price. Otherwise, this isn’t bad, and one could do much worse than revisit the story in this format.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7/10

Ender’s Shadow: Battle School #2 [Review]

Creative Director & Executive Director: Orson Scott Card
Script: Mike Carey
Art: Sebastian Fiumara
Color Art: Giulia Brusco
Lettering: Cory Petit
Story Consultant: Jake Black
Cover: Timothy Green II
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This issue picks up at and follows Bean through his time with Sister Carlotta as he learns from her and eventually seeks to learn more about where he himself came from. By issue’s end, we see Bean about to leave for Battle School to face his future.

Where with the previous issue I had not read the novel and thus had no pre-conceived notions or expectations, I have since read the novel this is based on, and had very high expectations for this issue.

The story seems quite accurate, though obviously a good deal is lost for lack of thought balloons and internal narration. Some of the art provides a bit of nearly cinematic symbolism as we follow Bean, which gives us an idea of what he’s thinking.

The art itself is good, though doesn’t quite fit the visuals I formed as I read the novel (and the first issue’s art did not insinuate itself into my mind enough to hold as I read the novel). There is a nice consistency in style, and does not seem bad; it is just what it is.

All in all, a solid issue, though two issues in and not even to Battle School, I wonder how rushed the rest of this story is going to feel.

Worth getting if you’re a fan of the Ender-verse stuff; having now read the novel (inspired BY the first issue to pick that up in the first place), I think this is a strong adaptation…it just suffers as any adaptation does by not BEING the source material.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7/10

Ender’s Shadow: Battle School #1 [Review]

Creative Director & Executive Director: Orson Scott Card
Script: Mike Carey
Art: Sebastian Fiumara
Color Art: Giulia Brusco
Lettering: Cory Petit
Story Consultant: Jake Black
Cover: Jim Cheung & Morry Hollowell (variants by Timothy Green and Emily Warren)
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I almost missed this book. I’ve picked up the first two issues of Ender’s Game, and the trade dress for this is virtually identical, including the title’s logo font.

This story focuses on Bean rather than Ender. We open with Bean as a street kid trying to get in with a crew of other kids in order to survive. He presents a plan that hadn’t been done before, and while parts of what he suggests is followed–the crew gets a bully on their side–the other kids fail to see things through, which results in the bad stuff Bean knew would happen for a half-done job. The results of this helps propel him toward Battle School.

While I’d read the novel Ender’s Game a couple times and so was affected reading the comics adaptation of that, I’ve come into Ender’s Shadow cold–I’ve not read any of the later “Enderverse” novels, including the novel Ender’s Shadow. It’s cool reading about this character and seeing how Bean gets his name and winds up going to Battle School–I’m not sure how much credit to give to Card on the original work versus Carey on this adaptation. Suffice that whatever Carey does with the original, I’m having no trouble following along–and am enjoying this, knowing only that Bean was a character in Ender’s Game and that he’s the focal point of this run-through of that story.

The art has an interesting look to it. It’s almost sketchy in a way, simplistic, and yet it conveys so much at the same time. I have no problem with that–it seems to accentuate the story itself, and for a story I’m new to, I don’t think I really have much in the way of preconcieved notions as to what the look should be. I don’t have my Ender’s Game issues onhand to compare this to, but I’m pretty sure the visual styles are quite different…yet it works just fine, and I have no problem with it whatever.

On the whole, this is an enjoyable issue, even going in knowing it’s the first of a five issue mini. I enjoyed it more than the first issue of Ender’s Game, and am actually quite interested now in reading the novel of this title, just to learn more of Bean and everything only hinted at in this first issue’s segment of story.

While my usual hesitations at mini-series apply, if you’re particularly interested in seeing the property adapted visually, this is well worthwhile. For the more casual reader, I’d suggest waiting for the collected volume for a fuller experience instead of just getting a single issue’s content at a time.

Story: 8/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 8/10

Ender’s Game: Battle School #2 [Review]

Creative Director & Executive Director: Orson Scott Card
Script: Christopher Yost
Art: Pasqual Ferry
Color Art: Frank D’Armata
Lettering: VC’s Cory Petit
Story Consultant: Jake Black
Cover: Pasqual Ferry & Frank D’Armata
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Picking up where the previous issue left off, we see Ender’s trip to and arrival at Battle School. His teacher lays it on a bit hard, intentionally (and effectively) isolating Ender from his fellow students from the get-go…the hope being this will prevent Ender from getting comfortable, and force him to think outside the standard “system.” We see Ender’s craftiness as he quickly engages older students, proving himself worthy of their level…we also see Ender’s skill in the Battle Room, easily adapting to a zero-gravity situation other students have a harder time with.

The story seems quite true to the book as I recall reading. Whether this holds up under close/immediate comparison I’m not sure. I find it to be quite satisfactory, though. The concepts Card presents work well in present-day American culture where we’ve got a war going on a couple of fronts and non-traditional enemies abound…and military advances seem to be pushing the bounds of traditional practices. While obviously set in the future, the story has that charming relevance in present-day.

After the first issue, the visual style’s growing on me a bit–it’s still not what I initially imagined when I’d read Ender’s Game years ago…but it fits, and it’s not hard to let this visual take influence my memories. There’s a certain vibe to the art that I can’t quite put my finger on…sort of a manga influence while seeming like it’s trying to fit a live model for certain characters.

On the whole, not a bad issue. As an adaptation this holds my interest–a sort of re-reading of the familiar story, but with pictures replacing thousands of words.

I’m not entirely sure why I bought this issue…this is a 5-issue limited series, and I would be absolutely shocked if the collected-volume (aka “graphic novel”) isn’t available within a month or two of the final issue’s shipping. You’re probably better off waiting for that version, unless you’re absolutely chomping at the bit for a visual production of Ender’s Game.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7/10

Ender’s Game: Battle School #1 [Review]

Creative Director & Executive Director: Orson Scott Card
Script: Christopher Yost
Art: Pasqual Ferry
Color Art: Frank D’Armata
Lettering: Cory Petit
Story Consultant: Jake Black
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Consulting Editor: Nick Lowe
Senior Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover: Pasqual Ferry & Frank D’Armata (variant by Emily Warren)
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It’s been a number of years since I last read Ender’s Game. Much as a movie based on a book rarely holds up to the source material, I’ve found that to be the case with most books-to-comics adaptations as well. Still, I decided to give this issue a try, given the source material, and wondering how it’d translate.

The issue opens with a young boy–Andrew “Ender” Wiggin having a monitor device removed from the back of his neck. Though the procedure doesn’t go as routinely as expected, the boy soon returns to class, where fellow students take note of the monitor having been removed. Lacking “status” granted by the device, Ender finds himself having to stand up–alone–to some bullies, and gets away with his fellow students looking at him thrugh much different eyes than earlier. As the issue progresses, we are introduced to the rest of Ender’s family, and the reason he had a monitoring device attached to him, as well as other elements that set up the story.

The art here works well, though it’s not entirely to my taste. The style has the feel of something trying to resemble CGI, or at the least of trying to mimic real life models or of being based on human actors, as a comic adaptation of a movie. That said, it’s quite interesting to put some actual visuals to characters I’ve only previously seen in my own imagination. This version doesn’t match what I’d imagined…but is in the unique position of providing me imagery going in, and as the story progresses, to continue to add to what I recall of the story.

The story is what I remember, though some subtle details I’d forgotten. Having words and pictures rather than just words to tell the story, many details obviously are sacrificed, even as others are enhanced by having visuals to SHOW what’s happening rather than just TELLING. A picture being worth a thousand words and all that, after all.

Overall, not a bad outing for something of this nature. This issue is billed as the first of 5…but from what I can remember of the novel (and that this is subtitled “Battle School”) I get the feeling that this mini-series-to-become-graphic-novel-collected-volume is just the first of multiple arcs that as a whole will give us (at least) a visual AND words adaptation of Card’s original novel.

I think that this might have been better suited for an original graphic novel format, as the story would probably work much better in a much larger chunk all at once instead of the little story segment we have here.

If you’re a particular fan of the novel and eager to read the story in a new format, this issue ought to be worth checking out. If this is a passing curiosity or otherwise…I think you’d be best suited to wait for a collected volume, and go from there.

Story: 7/10
Art: 6/10
Whole: 6.5/10

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